Playing It Safe Against The French Winawer

Playing It Safe Against The French Winawer

French Winawer: The French Defense is one of black’s most popular responses to 1.e4. From amateurs to masters, the popularity of this defense never stops increasing. The reason is that it gives black the opportunity to fight for the initiative from a very early stage of the game.

French Winawer – 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.exd5!?


White has two major choices on move third; one of them is 3.Nd2, a move that appeals to the positional player who aims for a quiet game. However, here too black can choose dynamic lines in order to disrupt white’s comfortable plans. The other choice and by far the most popular is 3.Nc3. This moves leaves black with two main continuations, one is 3…Nf6 and the well-known Winawer Variation with 3…Bb4, which is the variation we will focus on in this article.


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After 3…Bb4 white’s main line is to continue with 4.e5, but the game is so sharp, and the amount of theory to know is so big, that recently many strong players are finding a comfort zone in 4.exd5!?. It would be naive to think that this move can bring white any theoretical advantage, but certainly, this continuation opens a door for creativity and new ideas that can cause black some headaches.

One of the positive things about this choice is that white is on safe ground. It is very difficult for black to sharpen things up. With this in mind, we can consider that white has a slight psychological advantage over the “typical French player” looking for complications and strategic plans in closed positions.

We will have a look now at the possible plans for black after the moves:

French Winawer – 1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.exd5 exd5 5.Bd3


We can say that white wants “simple chess” – easy development with Qf3 (h5,) Nge2, 0-0, etc, and later on, start attacking on the kingside. He can also develop with Nf3-h3, Bf4 and fight for the control of the square e5. Black has a few ways to develop after 5.Bd3 and we will look at them in separate games.

The most popular line for black is 5…Nc6, attacking d4 and aiming to trade white’s bishop on d3 by Nge7 and Bf5. Still, white has ways to create problems for black as recent games show.

Plan A: Black plays 5…Nc6


Here white’s main move is 6.a3, but that road has been explored severely by now. A recent game caught our attention in which white played 6.Nf3 and still black was unable to solve all of his problems. See the following game for details.

French Winawer – Plan B: Black plays 5…c6 and Nge7


This is a solid option for black. White can continue in the same way, with Nf3, as in another example of Hovhannisyan in which he won convincingly.

Plan C: Black plays 5…c6 with Nf6/other moves

Here we discuss other ideas worth knowing for white with black playing the setup with c6. We have taken the game between Robson and Shulman in which black tried to equalize by playing Qf6-Bf5. In the variations, we also have a look at a game by Hou Yifan that although she lost, she emerged with an advantage out of the opening.

French Winawer – Conclusion

This is a line for the lazy player who does not wish to study the immense amount of theory written in the Winawer and still wants to play a system with some venom. Even if it doesn’t become your main weapon against the French, it can be a surprise choice at any given moment. We hope you enjoyed the analysis and this line serves you in your tournament games.

We also recommend reviewing The Morra Gambit: To Take or Not to Take?, Typical Sacrifices in The Middlegame: Sacrifice on e6 as well as Understanding Chess Weaknesses – 3 Things to Know.

Good luck!

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  • positional play
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Updated 12.22.2023